T&T’s Roger St Rose.

When it comes to hockey development in the Pan American region there are people who have been involved in the sport for so many years and at so many levels that they have developed a formidable mountain of knowledge and experience about what works and what doesn’t.

One of them is T&T’s Roger St Rose, who earlier this month was one of two of hockey’s most knowledgeable officials interviewed by the Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF)’s to get their take on how hockey is developing across our region – from both a playing perspective and an umpiring/officiating perspective. The other was Chile’s Walter Kramer.

St Rose is Chair of the PAHF Umpiring Committee and also sits on the PAHF Education Panel. During a lifetime dedicated to hockey he has been an international player, an international hockey umpire and, just last month, he was named as a nominee for the prestigious 2019 World Fair Play Awards and like Kramer is actively involved in promoting hockey and its development at national, continental and global level.

Importance of high umpiring standards to overall development

Developing umpires and officials to mirror the advance of player and team development is something in which St Rose has been heavily involved for a number of years.

A top-level umpire himself – St Rose has umpired at Champions League, World Cup and Olympic Games – he knows how important training and experience of top level competition is for umpires.

“It is important to offer development, training and gradual exposure to games and tournaments so that their knowledge and understanding in what it takes to become an umpire at the top level is enhanced.”

There is a fine balance to be had between giving umpires experience and ensuring matches are umpired to the highest standard possible. This is where St Rose and the PAHF Umpiring Committee comes in.

“Our first mandate is to populate the PAHF tournaments with experienced, solid umpires who can deliver a quality product. What is quite noteworthy is that PAHF has developed an Education Panel to work in conjunction with the FIH Academy to further assist in raising the standard of its officials within the continent. This Panel is to be the umbrella body to deal with all educational things be it practical or theoretical in development of our officials.”

Developing umpiring talent across the entire continental federation is a big ask. There are 26 national associations, operating at different levels.

St Rose cites the hockey powerhouse of Argentina, with its global influence on the game, comparing it to Haiti, a country in the embryonic stage of development.

“As a result [of this range of development stages],” he says, “the levels of support for umpires in the various countries follow the degree of success that country is achieving at a competitive level. Also, some national associations lack a strong competitive domestic structure and there are few opportunities for umpires to follow a development pathway to become a good national umpire.”

Lack of funding for umpires

There is also the question of funding. Most national associations funnel their limited finances towards players and player support. Umpire development may then have a fight on its hands to access any remaining funding. With barriers in place to develop, many young, aspiring umpires are turned off the idea of progressing towards international level – it is simply too hard.

These are all issues that St Rose is setting out to address. He says that it is important that his fellow Board members at PAHF understand the challenges and landscape within which national associations operate when it comes to umpire development. His call is being answered.

“The PAHF Executive Board has mandated its subcommittees to develop processes to deal with identifying, developing and exposing the most promising umpires within the continent,” says Roger. “As such, a number of initiatives have been put in place to support, develop and expose the continent’s promising umpires.”

Among the initiatives are measures such as: ensuring competitive appointments offer an appropriate level of challenge to umpires; channelling financial support to national associations targeted at helping promising umpires to advance; and providing umpire managers to coach and mentor up and coming umpires.

Limited support system

A major hurdle to the PAHF initiative is the lack of experienced mentors in some countries. This means aspiring umpires often do not, locally, have a guide and support to turn to. This is something that PAHF is addressing by widening the search for mentors. While distance and national borders may present a challenge, there is still the potential for umpire mentors from across the entire continent to talk to and support their lower-level peers – largely through the use of technology such as WhatsApp, Facebook and video technology.

For St Rose, raising the level of umpiring is essential for the sport’s development as a whole.

“It is said that the level of officiating at games can determine the level in which your sport can reach,” he said. “Therefore, bad officiating produces less skilled players.”

But PAHF, he says, are working hard to address this.

“We have identified the areas that PAHF needs to address to bring the level of the game to a particular standard. We, as a continental federation have a very clear mandate – to develop officials who can deliver an international product for the good of the game within our continent.”